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Court asked to review ballast permit

ST. PAUL - An environmental organization says a lax ballast water permit will not protect Lake Superior from invasive aquatic species.

The Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy asked appeals court judges Thursday to order that the state Pollution Control Agency create a tougher ballast discharge standard to protect Lake Superior's water quality.

Matt Norton, an attorney for the environmental group, said law requires that a permit should be intended to result in cleaner Lake Superior water.

"This permit does not protect or preserve the existing water quality of the lake," Norton told the court in oral arguments.

Minnesota should adopt a stricter ballast water discharge guideline, such as a California plan that prohibits the release of fish and small organisms from vessels' ballast water, Norton said.

That could prevent the introduction in Lake Superior of new invasive species, such as viral hemorrhagic septicemia, known as fish Ebola virus, he said.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Roche told the court that the Pollution Control Agency is choosing to regulate ship water discharges for the first time ever.

"This can only make water quality in Lake Superior better, not worse," Roche said.

Under the recently adopted permit, water discharge would not be regulated until 2016. Environmentalists say that is too far off.

Roche said that the technology for killing organisms in ballast water still is in its infancy, but Norton claimed there are two proven techniques for cleaning the water before it is discharged.

Shipping vessels are supposed to comply with federal "best practices" standards for safely discharging ballast water. Those guidelines fail to eliminate water pollutants, Norton said.

In a written briefing, the environmental group said that 43 invasive species have been identified in Lake Superior, nearly half of which are believed to have been introduced through discharged ballast water.

The court has 90 days to issue a ruling.